We’re reading Paul’s Second Letter to the Thessalonians and the Gospel of Matthew this week at Mass. Paul’s letter was written around the year 55 AD, 20 years or so after the death and resurrection of Jesus. The Gospel of Matthew was written about the year 85 AD, some 40 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection.
In many ways, Paul’s letters help us to understand the gospels. That’s because the gospels reflect the church of Paul’s time as well as the time of Jesus. For example, you’ll notice in Paul’s letters the build up of antagonism between Jews and Christians. When Paul went to different places in the Roman world, he usually went into the Jewish synagogues to preach the gospel. Some accepted his message, some did not.
Still, as Christianity grew and attracted new members, Jews and Greeks, the Jews who remained faithful to the old law became more opposed to this new movement. They sharply confronted Paul himself in the places where he went, even to the point of beating him and trying to kill him. The Pharisaic element in Judaism led the opposition. Paul himself was a Pharisee who actively persecuted Christians before he was dramatically converted.
The growing Jewish opposition influenced the way Matthew pictures Jesus’ relationship with the Pharisees. Matthew’s gospel was written at a highpoint of Jewish-Christian controversy, after the destruction of the temple in 70 AD. If you read only passages from the 23rd chapter of Matthew’s gospel you would think that the Pharisees were Jesus fiercest enemies.
In reality, a number of Pharisees became his most important followers, like Nicodemus and Paul himself. The Pharisees were certainly antagonistic to him in his lifetime; Jesus was angry with them for their blindness to him and his message. But did he see them as mortal, eternal enemies? No, he didn’t.
We have to read the scriptures with an eye on the time they were written and the audience they were written for. It helps us understand the hot rhetoric we hear in Matthew’s reading for today.
But there’s another lesson to learn from readings like these. Be careful not to demonize your enemies. God doesn’t do that and neither should we.
That’s an important lesson to remember today as we look at the Muslim world and the build up of controversy between them and us. Jesus didn’t demonize people; he turned to the thief on the cross, he told the story of a prodigal son, he received back the disciples who abandoned him.,
When we bring the bread and wine to the altar at Mass, we bring all of creation, not just a part of it, for God to receive. “Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation,” we say. All creation is God’s creation. He wishes to bless it and see it at peace and harmony. God wishes us to see things as he see them.
God doesn’t demonize.